My favorite long-time, regular reader and commenter of this blog, Anonymous, asked me in the comments of my last post: "Have you thought about doing any posts on microwave cooking?"
Not really, but you just gave me an idea.
Instead of taking my typical approach to blogging - doing research, finding linkages to bolster my contentions, and carefully crafting an argument, I'm approaching this one from a completely different angle for once.
Yeah, a number of years ago, I did some research on how the microwave oven is bad for human health. It's been a long time, but let me see if I can recall the things I've read about microwave oven cooking, and why I decided to stop using it for anything other than heating water for non-consumptive purposes - I don't even use it for defrosting frozen foods.
Microwaves destroy nutrients and minerals in food and water, they can also emit potentially toxic radiation while cooking, they alter protein molecules and destroy any natural pro-biotic bacteria present in your food. Regularly eating microwaved food is also linked to heartburn, acid reflux, indigestion, diarrhea and other digestive issues. Also, if you microwave anything with plastic wrap or Styrofoam containers, toxic compounds like bisphenol-A and other substances in the containers can leach into the food.
Here was one of the more memorable experiments I came across on teh Interwebz, from a high school kids science fair project:
|Update: This pic has purportedly been debunked - I still 'aint cooking with a microwave.|
If the microwave devitalizes and denatures water, imagine what it's doing to your food...but I digress. Anyone can google all this stuff for yourself and find hours of reading on the topic.
On the other hand, I have a much more compelling reason to eschew this nutrient destroying tool of convenience: texture and taste.
Here's the one mention I previously made here about microwaving food:
In all this time, I've come to realize something else when it concerns eating food. It's not just the ingredients that I'm vigilant about.
I've also become really conscious of the habitual behaviors and social rituals around food.
Where I once considered cooking a laborious and time consuming chore (hence the rationalization for eating fast food 5 or more times a week), I now take great pride in procuring fresh, pure and natural ingredients, and taking great care to cook meals with said ingredients.I despise the culture of the microwave.Wrapped in plastic and nuked, destroying the texture and full flavors of the ingredients.
I loathe the mentality behind driving and eating.
Or doing anything else BUT savoring well made food at a sit down meal.
I hate eating off of paper plates, paper napkins, Styrofoam cups and bowls, and with plastic utensils. I strive to make every meal I eat, a REAL MEAL, made with real food, eaten at table with real silverware and porcelain and glass flatware, with good company to commiserate and savor the meal with. It is one of the finest pleasures in this life.
All my friends and family are aware of my aversion to the microwave. When people offer me leftovers, I tell them I'd prefer to eat it cold from the fridge than having it zapped. I used to be the sort of person that couldn't bare to eat cold left overs. I always nuked my leftovers to get the food hot. Once I quit using the microwave, I figured out that most foods actually don't taste bad at all eaten cold....but I still prefer cooked foods, served hot. Nowadays, I usually take the extra step of reheating food the old fashioned way.
And in doing so, I also discovered something else, dishes like stews, chili's and soups that have all the fat congeal at the top of the dish in the refrigerator? They typically taste better on the re-heat than when they were freshly cooked and still piping hot! Something about refrigeration and reheating makes the flavors blend better.
Of course, a lot of folks will skim all that hardened fat out and dump it before reheating their food. Ugh. That's where all the flavor and nutrition is! Why would you take the best part of the food out and throw it away?
I've hosted dinner parties in which I've cooked a big pot of beef stew two days prior, chilled it for 24 hours, than reheated it just prior to guests arriving to eat. No one ever suspected they were getting "reheated leftovers" at my dinner table, but the compliments are always forthcoming, and I'm often asked what my "secret" is.
People seem to have bought into this notion that the microwave really saves them a lot of time and effort. But if you really do a comparison, you are literally sacrificing the taste, texture and nutritional value of your food to save perhaps 5 or 10 minutes of your time, at best.
About the best argument you could make is that you're using less dishes to reheat your food.
Whoop-de-doo. So instead of having to wash one microwavable Tupperware dish and a fork, I end up having to wash one Tupperware dish that I had refrigerated my food in, a plate, a fork and a pot or pan.So there's perhaps an extra 5 minutes on the clean up.
The way I spend time and money on procuring ingredients and cooking the food I and my family eat, I say it's worth the extra time spent to reheat a meal and have a little bit more clean up detail.
Healthy food deserves a healthy respect. I just don't find the taste and texture that gets altered by nuking your food in the microwave a worthy trade off to save the 10 or 15 minutes longer it takes to reheat and clean-up.
Leftover dinner food that takes 3 minutes to reheat, takes about 6-8 minutes on a stove top in a cast iron skillet, and the taste and texture is retained, if not improved from conventional reheating.
A bag of microwave popcorn takes 4-5 minutes. Issues of microwaveable popcorn ingredients aside, using a covered pot and some butter and macadamia nut oil, I can pop a full bowl of popcorn in about the same 5 minutes, and season it with real salt and spices, and it tastes and smells far better, too.
The only thing is you have to actually stand over the pot and continuously shake it to keep the popped corn from burning.
But I guess the 5 minutes you would spend over the stove is not as valuable as 5 minutes watching the tell-a-vision or updating your facebook page from your smartphone, while the microwave is nuking your teflon-lined, paper bag full of kernels, partially-hydrogenated oils and artificial butter flavors.
In the past 5 years of exploring the topic of food and nutrition on teh Interwebz, I've developed a much better relationship and respect to my food that I put into my body.
Why would I purposely go through the care and effort of raising my own chickens and feeding them custom mixed feed to have a regular supply of nutrient-dense, free-range/pastured eggs...only to zap it and destroy all those nutrients I otherwise spent all that time and effort cultivating?
Why would I go out of my way on a weekly basis to travel to the Farmer's Market in my part of the island to procure freshly harvested organic produce so that I can saute them in high quality, grass fed butter and expensive macadamia nut oils...only to destroy all the vitamins and minerals in a radio active box for the sake of saving 5 minutes of time and effort?
Or the fresh fish or grass fed beef or the bone broth stocks and soups I usually make overnight in the crockpot?
Real food, takes real time to make and real time to enjoy. It is a labor of love. To cherish these principles, I don't find it difficult at all to eschew the so called time-saving convenience the microwave provides. As the old saying goes, you are what you eat, and I don't eat or drink anything that is nuked or zapped.
I respect my body, by respecting my food.
Post Script -After seeing some comments both here and over at RedPillWomen on this post (thanks for the linkage, Stingray), I realized this post was not as clear in my "anti-microwave your food" sentiment as I thought. My bad.
Zap your food for all I care. Anonymous just asked me to do a post on microwaves, so I put my thoughts down in a stream-of-conscious style blog post (which is not how I normally write when I put together a post here.)
To clarify - I did a lot of research on the topic 5+ years ago. Based on so much conflicting reports, I cannot say for certain that microwave ovens are truly bad for human health. But I can say it is certainly bad in affecting the texture and taste of the food you cook with it, and for me, that is enough of a reason for me to not use the damn contraption.
As I said before, I've developed a passion for cooking and eating quality, wholesome and nourishing foods in the past few years, and I see the microwave as an affront to those things.